If Tender Morsels had a love child with Madapple, and My Sweet Audrina was the midwife, it might turn out looking like Franny Billingsley’s crazy good new fantasy, CHIME. It’s sometime in the nineteen aughts, and seventeen-year-old Briony, daughter of a rural clergyman, is convinced she’s a witch. How does she know? Well, there’s the little matter of the time she called up a wind to dump her twin sister Rose out of a swing when they were little, resulting in Rose’s peculiar behavior ever since. Then there was the afternoon she got mad at Stepmother, and spirited up a water being that nearly drowned her when it flooded the parsonage and ruined all the books in the library. And if that’s not enough, consider the fact that she can talk to all the brownies, sprites and fairies that only she can see in the swamp behind her home, and you’ve got a bona fide broom rider on your hands. Briony knows she’s nothing but bad news, and hopes that by punishing herself by staying away from the swamp she can avoid being found out. Witches are still hanged in her neck of the woods, and Briony prays to never be looked at twice by the Chime Child, a village woman born at the stroke of midnight who uses her gift of second sight to identify potential spell-casters. Then dashing Eldric comes to town, a college drop-out with a silver tongue who falls hard for Briony and refuses to let her go on tormenting herself. He starts asking questions, and soon Briony begins to realize that everything she thought to be true about herself and her family may be a colossal lie. But if she’s not a witch, then what is she? And what is the secret that the swamp spirits and Eldric have been trying to tell her that she refuses to believe? A magical amalgamation of fantasy, religion, turn of the century technology, horror and hot romance, this at times claustrophobic first person narration of a girl trying to find out who she is in a world turned upside down by secrets and lies is absolutely spellbinding. Billingsley uses the symbols of Briony’s changing world to make subtle statements about the strict societal roles of men and women, the questionable advantages of technological progress, and the loss civilization suffers when we begin to forget our myths and legends. But don’t expect a fast paced adventure–secrets are revealed slowly here, layer by layer in luscious prose that will make you pause on every page. Delectable!
Chime by Franny Billingsley